Coon Rapids has a vision for shared public space

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2012 - 3:50 PM

After scrapping a project in 2010, the city is courting partners in a phased plan for a multiuse community center.

The Coon Rapids Community Center concept is back, but city officials are taking a completely different approach this time.

Two years after the city opted to scrap a large community center project in favor of a phased plan, city officials once again are making plans. Earlier this year, the Coon Rapids Athletic Association offered to join with the city to create more gymnasium space.

These days, City Manager Steve Gatlin is paying calls to a diverse list of potential public partners -- the school district, the county, the state -- which could own or lease part of a second phase if it comes to fruition.

"The whole tone of this is different," Gatlin said. "You have a group of public agencies with a need for public space. We're all going to work together and meet our needs in a different way."

Anoka Ramsey Community College (MNSCU) and the Anoka-Hennepin School District each have agreed to pony up $10,750 to help the city pay for a facility study -- officials are working on the county, too -- part of a process of imagining a space that would serve diverse needs and desires.

Among them are:

• Gymnasium space for the Athletic Association that could accommodate basketball, volleyball and other courts, as well as a walking track and a limited fitness center that may or may not be open to the public.

• A library to replace the old and cramped Crooked Lake branch.

• Classroom space for the college and for a relocated Crossroads Alternative School, which now is leasing space in a former grocery store across Coon Rapids Boulevard.

• A relocated storefront Welcome Center for the district and career center for the college.

• A gathering space for the senior citizens group that at times can take about a third of the space at City Hall.

In 2010, the City Council scrapped plans for a $46.5 million proposal that included an ice arena, fitness center, pool and other amenities, all in one project.

That project drew vociferous opposition from some community members and raised concerns among City Council members who were reluctant to raise taxes during a recession. A couple of members also argued that the city should not embark on that endeavor without committed partners.

They opted for a phased approach that included construction of the Coon Rapids Ice Arena, which opened in September 2011, and amorphous plans for a scaled-back second phase down the line.

All the potential partners will gather next week to talk about "the synergies," Gatlin said -- the opportunities to share spaces.

For his part, Coon Rapids Athletic Association President Ted Schmolke said new gymnasium space will save his middle- and high-school players from practicing in aging school gyms -- and in one case, an elementary cafeteria -- and provide welcome amenities for sports parents.

He said he envisions more than an athletic activity center, noting that a family arriving for one child's basketball practice really could head in as many as five different directions at the same facility.

"The exciting thing is that we're just moving them to one spot," he said. "They're already renting space elsewhere, and this is the first time that all these components will be on one campus."

In addition to revenue streams from each potential public partner, Schmolke said the community provides lots of opportunities for private fundraising, a welcome relief to taxpayers in the city.

"I think we need to come to the table with $2 million," he said. "That's my goal. Not a penny less."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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